The Two (Or More) Sides To A Story

“False balance” is pushback to the adage there are two sides to every story. It is a concept that is gaining popularity among some journalists. Media professionals, who have long been told to seek out and present all angles of a story, are now arguing against the practice. They claim facts are straightforward and support a single and incontrovertible truth. Even presenting an alternative theory is tantamount to spreading misinformation.

In analysis, accepting there are not only two but often multiple possible explanations for a data set is not only good practice but an essential part of the job. We rarely have a complete set of facts on which to reach judgments. That’s why we generate and test a series of hypotheses against the evidence we have on hand, and then develop and test new hypotheses as additional evidence comes to light. Information gathering is a continuous process. By dismissing the possibility there is an alternative explanation for an event or a set of facts, we can become caught up in the analytical trap of confirmation bias, or only accepting evidence that fits our narrative.

A key characteristic of a successful analyst is curiosity. Curious people seek information and contrary opinions, sometimes to refine an argument; sometimes to explore all sides of a story for context and perspective; and sometimes because going down rabbit holes is just an intellectually satisfying exercise. An analyst doesn’t have to agree with or promote every theory he or she encounters, but seeking out and considering contradictory opinions will pay off in a work product that offers a reader a richer explanation of the issue.

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